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West Bank Bantustan

Since the only Palestinian 'state' the current peace process can deliver is another Gaza-style enclave, this upsurge of violence is hardly encouraging

By Ben White

20/01/08 "The Guardian" -- Once more, there has been an upsurge of violence in the Gaza Strip. Israeli military attacks have killed over 30 Palestinians in the last few days, while in the neighbouring Israeli city of Sderot and across the Negev, Palestinian rockets have fallen in their dozens.

At the same time, however, there is also a renewed emphasis on negotiations - it was only Monday that Israelis and Palestinians began to discuss issues such as Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, and the borders of the proposed Palestinian state. Most of the media coverage this week has dealt with these parallel stories by referring to the fresh bloodshed as coming "despite" the "renewed peace talks", or as representing an ill-timed challenge to the successful continuation of the top-level meetings.

The IDF operations and rocket attacks are indeed linked to the so-called peace process, but not in the way that most have suggested. One cannot divorce events in Gaza and Sderot from the Annapolis agenda since, in fact, far from being a threatening interruption to Olmert-Abbas talks, the violence is sadly a natural extension of Roadmap logic.

First, let us remember the context for Israel's self-declared "disengagement" from the Gaza Strip in 2005. The spectacle of Israeli soldiers dragging away screaming settlers, an image which apparently symbolised the rift in Israeli society between those willing to compromise and the religious extremists, was a useful smokescreen for the openly-stated motivations for the redeployment. From then prime minister, Ariel Sharon, to veteran statesmen like Shimon Peres and US negotiator Dennis Ross, it was explained that disengagement was about demographics, the term preferred in polite conversation for the reality that Palestinians are considered a strategic threat on account of their race.

As Sharon's advisor, Dov Weisglass, made clear, disengagement was all about putting the peace process in "formaldehyde". Talking to Ha'aretz newspaper, Weisglass boasted how disengagement legitimised "our contention that there is no negotiating with the Palestinians", and moreover:

"... in regard to the large settlement blocs, thanks to the disengagement plan, we have in our hands a first-ever American statement that they will be part of Israel ... Sharon can tell the leaders of the settlers that he is evacuating 10,000 settlers and in the future he will be compelled to evacuate another 10,000, but he is strengthening the other 200,000, strengthening their hold in the soil."

The acknowledgement that there would have to be a future token removal of settlers in the West Bank brings us right up to date with post-Annapolis theatrics, as Bush hurried to Israel urging Olmert to get serious about those hill top trailer outposts. While in Jerusalem, the US president outlined his two-state vision that unites everyone from the Israeli political establishment and Abbas's clique, to Blair and western liberals. Broadly speaking, it means recognition of Israeli West Bank colonisation, the preservation of Israel's right to discriminate against non-Jews, and the creation of more sealed-off, "autonomous" Palestinian homelands.

It is a recipe for the creation of more, post-disengagement "Gazas". Proposals such as those made by former IDF deputy chief of staff and advisor to Barak and Sharon, Uzi Dayan, call for a West Bank "disengagement" to protect Israel's "Jewish-democratic character". It's the same "more land, fewer Arabs" mantra and, as Dayan's map shows, it means unilateral Israeli annexation of huge chunks of the West Bank and the creation of Palestinian bantustans.

Like today's beseiged Gaza, where residents dig up roads for the cement to make graves, these artifical statelets will be subjected to the same kind of treatment urged by commentators such as Gilad Sharon, writing today in leading Israeli paper Yediot Aharanot:

"Even if ultimately we are forced to embark on a broad Gaza operation, we must not approach it as if it's a surgical operation requiring microscopic levels of accuracy ... We must tell Gaza residents: 'One way or another, quiet will prevail here. You can choose whether this will be done through sitting in the darkness or through turning your backyards into ruins.'"

The current bloodshed in Gaza, then, is a warning that the current peace paradigm is only likely to reproduce the misery felt by Gazans and the Israelis of Sderot. The Annapolis peace process, guided by the Quartet, leads us towards a Palestinian "state" that, notwithstanding Bush's adjectival outpourings, will resemble Gaza-esque enclaves declared "unoccupied" and subjected to brutal repression. Israelis and, even more so, Palestinians will be set for yet more of the kind of violence and suffering ushered in by the Gaza disengagement, as witnessed once again this week.

Ben White is a writer living in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He has spent several summers in Palestine/Israel based in the West Bank and written extensively on the Middle East.

His website is at www.benwhite.org.uk and his blog at www.benwhite.org.uk/blog

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